3389th pilot training squadron

keesler air force base, Biloxi, mississippi

1967 - 1973


1 - 3389th Thunder Trojans, Keesler AFB - Squadron Yearbook(Note:  The Thunder Trojan Squadron Yearbook was the foundation “footprint” for developing the History of the 3389th contained on this site.  Its information was obtained from records maintained in the Squadron Commander’s Office, including newspaper clippings retained in notebooks and also personal accounts of members of the Squadron at the time the Yearbook was written.  B. Shul was a principle writer of the material contained in the “Thunder Trojans”); 2 - A Brief History of Keesler AFB & the 81st Training Wing, AFD-080226-025-5; 3 - Marianna Municipal Airport, History - Wikipedia; 4 - History of Graham Air Base Florida -; 5 - Moody Air Force Base, Operational History, Air Training Command - Wikipedia; 6 - Stead Air Force Base - Wikipedia; 7 - 3638th Flying Training Squadron, Stead AFB (1958-1965); 8 - Air University Review (Sep-Oct 1968) - L/Col. Frank H. Robertson; 9 - 78th Air Base Wing, Operational History, Air Training Command - Wikipedia; 10 - Sun Herald Newspaper, Biloxi, MS - 2 May 1973; 11- Personal Accounts:  R. Riegel, D. Schmenk; H. L. Smith; 12 - Personal Account:  M. A. Treadway, II.; 13 - 3389th PTS-MAP - Graduation Program (Class 73-07) USAF, UPT, ATC; 14 - Photographs (2) - Courtesy of Thomas Swanson; 15 - Samuel Reeves Keesler, Jr., two (2) photos and documentary information - Biloxi Herald (On-line), March 13, 2011.

~ T-28A ~

On the Ramp

Keesler AFB, MS

~ T-28B ~

“U. S. AIR FORCE” Stenciled Over Orange & White U. S. Navy Colors

Operations expanded and the student load increased greatly over this same time period.  As President Nixon’s Vietnamization Program gained impetus, the 3389th again stretched it capabilities to accommodate a 47% increase in the total number of students. During June 1971, the Squadron flew more hours than at any other time in its history.  Despite this increase in student load, the instructor and aircraft quotas remained the same and the student/instructor ratio rose dramatically.  However, neither safety nor the high standard of training were compromised in fulfilling the mission and the student elimination rate declined to 4.7% compared to 25% for students at the American Undergraduate Pilot Training bases over this same period.1

As the Vietnam War began winding down, so too did the need to train Vietnamese pilots.  Colonel Douglas Weart, Commander of the 3389th PTS – MAP flew the last T-28 from Keesler to Pensacola on May 2, 1973.  The UPT – MAP foreign pilot training program at Keesler AFB ended on May 4, 1973 with the presentation of silver wings to the fifteen members of Class 73-07.  Thirteen of the graduates were from the Republic of Vietnam Air Force (VNAF) and two were from Laos.10 

As it was so aptly written in the Squadron’s yearbook, “3389th PTS Thunder Trojans”:1

Finally, in 1972, the 3389th at Keesler began its decline.  IP’s started to leave, no new student classes were on the horizon and even the T-28 Trojan’s began to disappear.  It was the beginning of the end. And there could be felt a note of nostalgia in the air.  Yes, after all the stan/eval check rides, early briefs, hazy summer days, red U’s, weekend flying, bag (barf) rides, ODO – RSU – SOF schedules, B-model radios, solos in the pattern, chip lights, ops notes, aerobics program, roach-coach suppers, IG teams, DC-8’s at twelve o’clock, “initial straight through”, missed approaches at tree top level, and most terrifying of all, flying student sorties; after all that, still the good ol’ VFR days at Keesler, drivin’ that crusty ol’ Trojan through the sky brings back many fond memories to many fine people.1

The Troj sort of grew on you until, in the end, it was sad to see the timeless trainers shipped away.  Would these planes ever see another loop or barrel roll?  How many hard landings did these beasts withstand, without failing?  And even if it was hell trying to see lead in the weather, didn’t it after all get you there and back on that big cross-country?  We all longed for the jet days at one time or another while at Keesler, but how many of those jet jocks ever flew in a non-radar environment, low level VFR, performed any and all aerobatic maneuvers, and truly understood the meaning of the term “see and avoid”, and then going right back up again next period for some more.1

Let’s face it, here was the only place you could light up a Winston in flight and then open your canopy to dump the ashes, all while flying trail formation VFR-on- Top to the tune of the latest pop music.1

Yeah, those were the days.  Gone now, perhaps forever, and we were once a part of it.  Someday, years from now, no matter where we go or what we are doing, we may hear the distant drone of a propeller somewhere, and think back to the “old days” when T-28’s were flown with abandon at Keesler.  And if someday you see an old gray haired pilot standing in some aircraft graveyard, surveying silently the battered hulk of what was once a T-28, pay no attention to him as he mumbles something about “modified or unmodified?”, for he is simply recalling to mind, a time in the past when, dressed smartly in his nomex flight suit, boots shined, and helmet polished, he walked proudly to his bird, mounted the wing, looked his student in the eye, and in a professional manner declared, “Wait here………… I………forgot my seat cushion”.1

The 3389th PTS made a significant contribution to the Military Assistance Program.  Originally formed as the 3551st Pilot Training Squadron (MAP) in 1958-59 to fulfill a short-term requirement of only four years, the program was extended because of a continuing need and the threat against the free world. 

At Keesler alone, the 3389th trained over 1,100 UPT – MAP students and PIT students and flew well over 200,000 hours.  During its existence, the squadron hosted students from thirty-four countries, including Afghanistan, Iran, Mexico, and Peru, but especially from South Vietnam. Of the 908 pilots who graduated before the squadron inactivated at Keesler in 1973, 743 were from that proud but beleaguered country.1, 2 

In the six plus years the 3389th operated at Keesler, safety standards and records were set.  The 3389th PTS – MAP was recommended and selected three times for the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award.  However, flight operations did result in several accidents, including claiming the lives of two instructor pilots and three student pilots.  Another instructor was killed while flying a civilian airplane.  Other instances involved emergency landings in fields or on foamed runways, several bailouts from crippled aircraft (these were “manual bailouts” as the T-28 did not have either ejection seats or extraction seats), and in one successful incident, a ditching near the beach as the airplane lost power as it was receiving radar vectors during a Ground Controlled Approach (GCA).  That water landing was the last training accident experienced by the 3389th PTS while at Biloxi.  (This airplane stands today mounted on a pedestal at Keesler Air Force Base as a memorial to those American and Allied pilots who flew for or were trained by the 3389th PTS and sacrificed their lives in the pursuit of peace and freedom.)1

        After closing the 3389th Pilot Training Squadron at Keesler in May 1973, the 3389th PTS – MAP was reborn at Webb AFB, Big Springs, TX, as the 3389th FTS - SATP (Flight Training School - Security Assistance Training Program) and operated T-37 aircraft, performing pilot training for both the USAF and allied officers.  At Webb, the 3389th PTS operated under the 78th Flying Training Wing, which had absorbed and replaced the 3560th Pilot Training Wing in December 1972.9 

        The end of the United States involvement in the war in Vietnam meant a decrease in the need for USAF pilots.   In 1977, Webb AFB was closed and the 78th FTW, including the 3389th FTS – SATP, was deactivated.9








The 3389th Pilot Training Squadron (PTS) Military Assistance Program (MAP), Air Training Command, United States Air Force, Keesler Air Force Base, Biloxi, Mississippi, had its roots established in 1958.  This school, officially designated the United States Air Force Pilot Training School (MAP), is a result of the Military Assistance Program Conference, March 1958, in the Canal Zone.  During the conference, young emerging nations asked the United States for assistance in providing a pilot training program.  Foreign pilot training through the 3551st Pilot Training Squadron (MAP) began flight operations at Graham Air Base in Marianna, Florida in 1959.  The airfield at Marianna was a former World War II flight-training facility located in Florida’s panhandle.  Graham Air Base had been activated there on January 27, 1953 and was named for William J. Graham, a civilian instructor who provided primary flight training to pilots and headed the school. Training at Graham was conducted under a civilian contract as most of the flight and ground school instructors as well as maintenance personnel were civilian employees.  Graham Air Base had replaced Greenville Air Force Base (AFB), Greenville, Mississippi, as a contract pilot training school because the Greenville base had become an Air Training Command basic single engine and jet pilot training school.4  (The term “Air Base” was used by the military to differentiate between those installations operated by civilians, the “Air Base”, versus those operated by the military, the Air Force Bases.)12

Thus, in 1953 the 3300th Pilot Training Squadron was reassigned from Greenville AFB to Graham Air Base to support the primary flight-training mission, with predominantly civilian instructors and maintenance personnel.  Training was provided in USAF T-34 Mentor and T-28A Trojan aircraft.  A group of United States Air Force (USAF) student pilots graduated from primary flight-training every six weeks. Because Graham’s short runways could not readily accommodate the USAF jet trainers of the period, student pilots completing primary training were then assigned to other Air Force Bases with longer runways for basic training in aircraft such as the T-33 Shooting Star. Although its instructor cadre was primarily civilian, Graham Air Base was still an Air Force installation with a overall military cadre in command and operated under constant military supervision.  Students were a combination of both commissioned USAF officers and non-commissioned Aviation Cadets, including students from foreign nations, the latter who would receive their commissions upon completion of their basic flight training.   In August 1959, the USAF began replacing their prop-driven T-28As with the first T-37 Tweet jet trainers.3 

In 1961, the Undergraduate Pilot Training – Military Assistance Program (UPT – MAP), the foreign pilot training program, was transferred from Graham Air Base to Moody AFB, Valdosta, Georgia.  This was due to the closing of the Graham’s civilian contract pilot school in Marianna.  Its T-28A Trojans were also transferred and the new squadron at Moody also received some T-34’s and C-47’s from other training bases.  This new training squadron became known as the 3551st PTS – MAP.  It’s original commander was Vic Bocquin, a WWII P-51B fighter pilot and “Ace” with six kills.  The first students began flying the T-34, however those flights were soon phased out and all primary flight training was then conducted in the T-28.  In early 1962 the number of South Vietnamese students entering this program began to increase sharply. As a result, the Air Force stopped disposal action on all T-28s stored in the desert at Davis-Monthan AFB, Tucson, Arizona.  Twenty-six of those aircraft moved to Moody, plus the U. S. Navy transferred four additional T-28 aircraft.5

In September 1963, the supersonic-capable Northrop T-38 Talon jet trainer arrived at Moody to replace the first-generation T-33 jet trainers.  That same month, the USAF Air Training Command (ATC) relocated the UPT – MAP from Moody AFB to Randolph AFB, San Antonio, Texas.  At Randolph AFB this relocated group became the 3512th Pilot Training Squadron.5  In addition to the foreign officers, the 3512th PTS also trained American officers who volunteered for follow-on helicopter training.  Although the classes were a mix of foreign and American officers and cadets, one mid-60‘s class was made up entirely of pilot candidates who were recent USAF Academy graduates.  After receiving 120 hours of primary training in the T-28A, these American officers went to the USAF Helicopter School conducted by the 3638th Flying Training Squadron at Stead AFB, NV.  In late 1965, this helicopter training was moved to Sheppard AFB, TX.  Upon graduation from helicopter training they received their regular USAF wings.6, 7, 11 

In December 1966, a USAF ATC inspection team surveyed Keesler Air Force Base, Biloxi, Mississippi, as a possible site for future flight training operations.  Although Keesler had supported flight training in the past, it had only one active runway and a small base operations building.  It supported relatively little flying as Air Force bases go.1 

It was during this same period that the United States was beginning to deploy substantial forces to Southeast Asia. On January 15, 1967, the 3512 Pilot Training Squadron was deactivated and a newly formed squadron, the 3389th Pilot Training Squadron began operation.  Its mission was to continue to teach these foreign students how to fly through the UPT – MAP.1 

The UPT – MAP flying training mission was transferred again that same month, January 1967, from Randolph AFB to Keesler AFB.  This would mark the first time since 1953 that flight training would return to Keesler.  On January 27, 1967, students completed their last flight at Randolph AFB.  Ten days later they were to resume their training at Keesler.  So, on February 4, 1967, Lt. Col. Roy Broadway, the Squadron Commander for the recently designated 3389th Pilot Training Squadron flew into Keesler AFB and was greeted by the Base Commander, Maj. Gen. Romulus W. Puryear along with a group of local dignitaries.  Eight more T-28A aircraft landed later that day.1


Maj. Gen. Puryear Welcomes Lt. Col. Broadway, Commander of the 3389th PTS-MAP 14



IP’s, Students & T-28’s On Display  14

Each IP received two flights after which they were considered ready to fly with students in the area.  Equipment was flown from Randolph AFB in C-47’s, seven of which were used in the training of foreign students at Keesler.  Later, T-41 Mescalero’s were added to the arsenal of fifty-five (55) T-28A’s.  By February 8, 1967, all requirements had been met and student training commenced with Class 67-G.1 

During the first two years (1967-1968) of training at Keesler AFB, the T-28A Trojan was used for Basic and Transition Flight Training as well as Pilot Instructor Training (PIT).  During this same period, the Douglas C-47 Skytrain was used for follow-on training for some of the graduates of the T-28 flight-training course.1

Initially, a mass launch system was used which saw up to thirty airplanes airborne in any one of four flying periods.  This “system” was replaced in April 1967 with a managed “Smooth Flow” of one takeoff every five minutes operating on 1.5-hour sortie schedule.  In 1969, both the C-47’s and the T-41’s departed Keesler and all flight training was conducted in the T-28A.1

In response to a change in the United States foreign policy, the 3389th PTS (MAP) was called upon to increase pilot output to meet the objectives of the Vietnamization Program.  From January 1, 1969 through December 31, 1970, the Squadron instituted the short-course concept for students designated for multi-engine training, developed a new syllabus for Pilot Instructor Training, and initiated operations at an auxiliary airfield in Alabama.  Arrangements were made with the State of Alabama for use of its airfield (3,998’ x 80’) at St. Elmo, AL as an auxiliary site for practice takeoffs and landings.1  This particular airfield was deemed “Dual-Use Only” (no student solo flights) due to its very narrow runway, remote location and lack of on-site emergency response personnel.  (In order to assist rear-seat Instructor Pilots during landing, white fire hose was laid out approximately 100 feet from the edge of each side of the runway, equal distance from the centerline of the runway.  This hose extended from near the approach end of the runways for approximately 200-300 feet.  During “No-Flap” approaches, this white hose provided the Instructor Pilots with an additional visual reference for runway alignment, as the runway was not fully visible to a pilot from the back seat of the T-28 once the aircraft was established on “final”.)  In addition, twenty T-28B’s were obtained from the U. S. Navy.  These “B-Models” were used to supplement training in navigation, cross-country, advanced aerobatics and formation flying.  The “A-Model” continued to be used for basic flight training as well as basic instrument training.12  (Note:  In 1969, the squadron obtained several T-28D’s, however these were soon replaced by the aforementioned T-28B’s.  See:  News Release)







Dominican Republic

El Salvador















Nationalist China









United States of America